Thanks for this very interesting post. First, to tackle my use of “redneck”—in hindsight I wish that I hadn’t used that word, because it taps into the particular narrative that you’re talking about in such a way that it ends up overwhelming what I was actually intending to point to in that statement. I think this was a product of piling on descriptors in order to tease out what I was actually thinking but then forgetting the weight that “redneck” has acquired with regards to Flarf. But what I was really getting at is the part of that sentence after the dash: “a kind of stereotypically lower class racist redneck-type who’s had little access to education—that lack of education being the particularly highlighted point.” Because those moments when certain Flarfy poems appropriate statements that contain bad spelling/messed-up grammar or glaring racist/sexist/homophobic stupidity gleaned from the internets—and particularly when those statements contain both of these things—the spots where this happens frequently end up feeling like a class of folks (regardless of socioeconomic position) who are brainy and schooled (self-taught or otherwise) are just taking easy potshots at the uneducated for their being uneducated. In a different light, it’d have a very “Revenge of the Nerds” quality to it. But from here I think we can see where the jump to “redneck” is made: racist/sexist/homophobic + lack of education invariably = redneck. In light of what you say regarding a lack of textual evidence for the existence of a Flarf Redneck Assault Team (hmm, FRAT)—and you’ve most certainly read more of this work than I have, so I’m betting that you’re probably right—this equation becomes less evidence of something within the work and more of a look into the kind of associational models that are floating around. It’s like racism and bad grammar automatically lead to a lower-class quasi-Southern idiocy—a stereotype that I’m not proud of perpetuating in my last post and which other people writing about Flarf should also shut up about and do some textual analysis (and also quit it with the threats and man-rage)—when in fact racism and bad grammar exist in, um, quite a few other segments of American society, as you’ve said. But these associations, true or not, and fucked-up as they are, are facts of the American landscape, and unfortunately that means sometimes they’ll determine our writing in ways outside of our intent. Therefore, taking misspellings and racist bile out of one context and placing them in another has to be done, obviously, with a great deal of care. As poets (especially of the “avant-garde” set) we are, again rightly or wrongly, associated with a kind of privilege with regards to language, and so our appropriation of languages that aren’t always our own is frequently going to carry the stamp of something like “class” (though that’s not exactly the right word), and that’s simply something that each poem is going to deal with successfully or not. I think that KSM in “Deer Head Nation” frequently does this kind of appropriation in a way that activates it towards fascinating, nuanced, and on-point uses, but at other times (though I don’t think this is my central problem with “Their Guys...”), Flarfy work does seem to be smarty-pantses minstrelizing (not a word, but I’m going with it) a bunch of less-than-privileged folks because of their lack of education. It probably comes down to a case-by-case basis for when this appropriation is on-point or not—and there’d be a lot of subjective disagreement here.
I’m not sure if I’ve really addressed these questions quite to my satisfaction or yours, but this nonetheless seems to be a convenient spot to return to “Their Guys...” and the specific discussion we’re having around how to read this poem—and I have to say that I’m glad that Maggie raised these questions with regards to a specific poem, because so often these Flarf Wars (or discussion of anything, really) have fallen into a kind of vague generality that, in spite of often being necessary, makes me feel more than a bit wary of making any definite statements (despite the fact that that’s what I was just doing in the paragraph above). Anyway, that aside—I think that a certain amount of our disagreement over how we feel about Magee’s poem is going to come down to our individual subjective responses to the language therein. I’m thinking particularly here about your statement that you find the textual surface of “Their Guys...” to be really interesting. I think it’s been established that, while this certainly isn’t the least interesting poem I’ve ever read on the “surface” level, I do not share this same fascination. But it’s pretty difficult for one of us to say that the other is “wrong” in this regard—without some extraordinarily extreme digging into the genealogies of our own subjectivities, unconscious minds, blah blah, etc., to understand the juridical power shaping how our particular “I just (don’t) like it” factors operate, and I’m not sure if it’s really possible to do that, and if it is, it will probably provoke me to have a freak-out/extended personal crisis.
But this said, in aspects of your reading of “Their Guys...” there are things I both agree and disagree with. I also read Magee’s poem as in a sense taking the various at-times-contradictory perceptions of Asian people—the Asian “takeover”; mentions of height; the title and its plays on the perceptions of Asian men as gay (or at other times, feminized or asexual); the Dragon Lady, etc.—and collecting them into a sort of sprung quasi-narrative of illogic. In the context of this piling on of stereotyped perceptions, I don’t think that the ironic moves being made here are going to be lost on most readers. As you say, the critique is obvious. But maybe that’s exactly the problem: when I pose the question to myself of what the actual critique is, all I end up with in response is something like “dudes—racism is fucked-up.” Which takes me back to my initial response to this poem, which was not that I felt so much as though it was racist but that it made me feel bored and annoyed—the kind of extreme language and the extreme reactions it is trying to provoke didn’t give way to any sense of deeper or more nuanced critique, and since, as I said above, I don’t find the textual surface all that interesting, I was left with very little to keep me engaged. It feels like all provocation and no pay-off. So I guess I’d say, yeah, it is an anti-racist poem, but I’m going to have to disagree with it being all that complex.
There’s more that I’d like to say here about the issues that Joanne raises regarding Magee’s position as a white male poet and the way that that interacts with his poem, but I’m gonna hold off on that (must articulate better). I’m very interested, though, about what you’ve said about KSM and the convenient “forgetting” about him being Arab that I agree does occur in a lot of these discussions. I’d definitely be all for him weighing in here on that and everything else.
(Also--I am super interested in your rumored Feminist Flarf Suite and would be very thankful if you would backchannel it to me if it is in a state anywhere close to done and/or meeting with your satisfaction. Thanks!)